How to take care of wool rugs from Momostenango

Got yourself a beautiful handwoven wool rug, and now wondering how to best take care of it? I’ll be happy to share the three simple steps that have worked for me over the years:

1. Shake the rug outside often

Get those loose wool fibers and any accumulated dust/dirt off by shaking the rug outside as often as possible. It feels good to see all the stuff come off the rug in the air! In my case, it’s usually more dog hair than anything… I shake all the rugs whenever I vacuum or sweep the house (a couple of times a week).

2. Let the rug take in the sun

Hang outside in the garden, balcony, anywhere the rug can take in some sunshine. Wool naturally has dust mite-repelling properties, but I figure adding some sunshine always helps, since I like to keep animals around. I was also told in the Netherlands that wool can be taken outside on a sunny winter day for self-cleaning. It’s generally understood that wool should be washed as little as possible, so make sure to do these first two steps often to avoid Step 3.

3. Machine-wash in gentle cycle

Because I’m pretty messy, I DO end up needing to wash my wool rugs once in a while. And it has not been a problem for me at all. Keep in mind that the more movement, the more likely for the rug to felt and shrink, and the same goes for temperature – the higher the water temperature, the more felting. I only use cold water because I don’t want my rugs to shrink.

If you have an already-felted rug, note that those are more durable than the non-felted type. This is because the fibers have interlocked, making it very hard for holes to form (and harder for them to expand, the way non-felted items might unravel). Felted rugs can handle rougher treatment (even during washing) than non-felted ones.

I learned that some washing machines have a setting specifically for wool. This works fine! Make sure to use gentle detergent and line-dry outside. Definitely don’t dry in a dryer unless you REALLY want your rug to shrink 😆

That’s really all I do for my wool rugs that I use all the time both inside and outside at home. I even have a few pieces my dog has used since puppyhood (that’s 7 years ago!) that are still intact and working well.

Here’s to many years of wool rug-using!

XOXO,

Mari

<see traditional wool rugs on our Artisan Direct page>

<find our naturally-dyed versions in our Home section>

What do these figures represent?

We’re often asked about the meaning behind brocade patterns found in Guatemala, woven row by row on backstrap looms, probably most noted on traditional huipiles. Some figures and patterns are specific to regions or towns, and others such as geometric figures seem to appear in many areas. Specific techniques used (Yes, there are many variations to brocade!) and color choices may differ, but certain repetitive patterns like diamonds, crosses, and zigzags are widely used.

But just because a figure might be “common” doesn’t mean it’s simple to decipher the symbolism behind them. Beliefs are often regional, and interpretations of similar figures can vary so much depending on who you ask. And just like other cultural aspects, these beliefs have probably shifted over time, adapting, mixing, evolving.

In this post, we’ll focus on just some (eight, to be exact) of the more prevalent traditional brocade figures currently found and used in San Juan Cotzal. These explanations were prepared by the cooperative of weavers from the same town that we work with, the ones whose work we feature here on our Artisan Direct page. Translation from Spanish to English is done by me (Mari) and I’ll also note the name of each figure in Ixil as the weavers have written them.

Can you spot some of the same figures in the beautiful huipil? (Pssst it’s available for sale by the same weavers! Find it here.)

  • 1. The Money Bird
“Tzichin – The Money Bird // This bird symbolizes the luck in having money, and having this figure is said to attract financial fortune wherever we go.”
  • 2. The Glass
“Ukab’al – The Glass // The cup or glass symbolizes home life and time spent with family; the warmth of a home. The glass is used to serve water, and represents good health and nutrition.”
  • 3. The Volcanoes
“Mam Munte – The Volcanoes // This figure stands for all volcanoes and mountains in the world, all much bigger than we are.”
  • 4. Family
“Ku Tzuk Ku B’aal – Family // This figure features a father, mother, and in the middle, a child. It represents humans, their unity and how parents take care of their children. Wearing this figure brings luck to the one’s family. “
  • 5. The Four Corners of the Earth
“Kaa Paq’ Il Txava’ – The Four Corners of the Earth // Represents Earth, where we live. Also known as the four cardinal points.”
  • 6. The Deer
“Mazat – The Deer // Because of the strength of this animal, it represents fathers as protectors of families.”
  • 7. The Corn Field Bird
“Toxokopil K’om – The Corn Field Bird // This figure shows the bird that feeds on corn, the greens of nature. It symbolizes life itself.”
  • 8. The Traveling Bird
“Xaol – The Traveling Bird // This Traveling Bird existed in years past. It would travel to the other side of the mountain, and when it rained, they all went up to the heavens. They would sing every afternoon from the clouds. This is the figure that represents human beings, and it protects people who travel to other towns, even countries.”

The cooperative of weavers from San Juan Cotzal, all proudly wearing handwoven huipiles that likely feature many of the above traditional brocade figures. Find their creations for sale here.

Backstrap loom kits 101

Weaving is a wonderful activity that can be practiced easily from home on a simple backstrap loom. But for those of you who didn’t grow up with weaving, it might still look and feel intimidating.

Don’t worry! I put together these simple videos to show you exactly what to expect in your backstrap weaving kit, and how to get started.

  1. This video shows how to unwrap your bundle and attach the loom in your home, and get into the right position to start weaving (4:40min):

2. In the second video, I show step-by-step how to get started with the simplest of weaves, the plain weave. I tried to explain also the basics of weaving in this video (7:10min):

These two should help you get started. Looking for more? Check our Experiences section for Zoom classes with master weaver Doña Lidia. Learn about the basics of textile traditions in Guatemala and weave together with experienced and patient teacher, Doña Lidia in English, from the comfort of your home.

Consider joining our small community of backstrap weavers on Facebook, a space for helping and learning from each other.

You can also look at the “Weaving” category on this blog for more posts related to the topic.

Happy weaving!

XOXO,

Mari

Guatemalan Weaving Vocabulary

As we get more and more involved with online weaving classes, we thought that a short list of common vocab might be helpful. The following is meant to be a simple introduction, and explained by me (Mari) in the context of weaving in Guatemala only. Please keep in mind that there are so many different textile traditions around the world, and many of these techniques in a different context are applied in a different way. But here’s something to get you started, with pictures:

Backstrap weaving, Doña Lidia in San Antonio Aguas Calientes. Photo by Aiko Kobayashi.

Backstrap weaving: a pre-colombian simple loom technology that consists basically of sticks and yarn. On one end, the loom is attached to a pole, tree, or anything stable, and on the other, to the weaver, around the waist with a belt. It can be rolled up and moved easily. This is the technique used in Guatemala for traditional huipiles (blouses worn by women) and more garments. Predominantly practiced in Guatemala by women. Similar looms are found in many parts of the world.

Doña Lidia demonstrates simple brocade patterns during an online class: mosquitos, pepenado lines, and semillas. Photo by Lisa Jennings.

Brocade weave: technique used to create patterns in the weaving. In Guatemala, the type of brocade is supplementary weft brocade. Many additional threads are introduced into the weft during weaving, row by row. Some people describe this process as “embroidering while weaving.”

A wooden footloom or pedal loom in Momostenango, used for weaving wool rugs in this town.

Footloom weaving: using a larger wood-based loom that was brought by the Spanish to Guatemala. Also called “pedal loom” or “treadle loom.” This type of loom allows for much wider and longer textiles to be woven. In Guatemala, the weaving on such a loom is performed predominantly by men. It is possible to incorporate techniques such as ikat and brocade on this type of loom, as well as tapestry weave.

Irma from Lake Atitlán shows her ikat-dyeing project. This is the warp to be woven on a backstrap loom. In this case, she started with already dyed-yellow thread. This will be dyed again after the knotting is complete, so the parts under the knots will remain yellow while the rest will be dyed with the second color.
Here is an example of an ikat pattern from dyeing the warp, visible on the loom. During the knotting and the dyeing processes it can be difficult to decipher what the design will look like when finished.

Ikat: a resist-dye technique applied to thread before the weaving process. Knots are placed in calculated positions in order for the thread to reveal patterns when the knots are opened after dyeing. In Guatemala, ikat is referred to as “jaspe” and the technique is practiced for both warp and weft threads independently, and in both backstrap and footloom forms.

Picbil on the loom, taken during a Textile Travel visit, Cobán area.

Picbil: a light-weave with supplementary weft for gentle brocade, regional from around Cobán. Traditionally, this weave is for blouses, using only white on white.

All three panels used for this picbil piece have four clean selvages, which can be noted here by the absence of fringing. Cobán.

Selvages / Selvedges: the finished edges of a fabric that do not fray. Footloom-woven textiles usually have two clean selvages, but not the starting and ending points of the panel, because these parts are cut off the loom. Backstrap-woven textiles may have four clean selvedges, but making a textile like this requires the knowledge, skill, and patience. Not all backstrap-woven panels have four selvages; they may have two, three, or four. Traditionally, Maya textiles are used to their fullest extent by not cutting the panels, thus keeping the structure intact an utilizing the selvages.

All the floral and zigzag patterns above are created on the loom with the incorporation of supplementary weft threads. Master weaver Doña Lidia from San Antonio Aguas Calientes.

Supplementary weft: the additional threads used to create designs for brocade figures. This allows for extra color to be incorporated into the textile.

This ikat warp is being put on the loom after the dyeing process. Lake Atitlán.
The warp on a pedal loom in Momostenango.

Warp: the vertically-arranged yarn/thread that is necessary in all types of looms.

Doña Lidia inserts additional weft into the textile (blue) along with the normal weft (bright pink, wrapped around the shuttle.

Weft: the yarn/thread that is inserted into the warp to create a structurally-sound weave. In Guatemala, the use of additional weft threads create colorful brocade designs.

FAQ: Online weaving class

We’ve hosted several online backstrap weaving classes with Doña Lidia now, and thought it might be helpful to share some questions we’ve received. We’re really learning a lot through these online offerings, and are enjoying being able to facilitate connections between international creatives and master weaver Doña Lidia ❤️

  1. Do I need to know Spanish to take this class?

No, you don’t! Doña Lidia speaks great English (as well as Kakchikel and Spanish), and I’m also online to help translate, narrate, and overall facilitate the experiential learning (Mari). We always have one more helper actively involved on the ground, too, as we are sharing the weaving action on two different devices always – one computer view for a larger view and one cell phone view for a more detailed close-up.

2. How much weaving experience do I need?

For a beginner class, nothing. If you’ve never practiced backstrap weaving before, we recommend taking a look at this short blog post with videos before the class (we’ll also send you more info to prep a few days before the class).

For a more advanced class, we do recommend some relevant experience. Please check each course description in our Experiences section to choose the right one for you.

3. Do I need a physical backstrap loom to take the class?

While not an absolute requirement, we do recommend having a loom either for the class or shortly after, so you can practice your learnings. Need a loom? We have three options prepared by our partner weavers at Lake Atitlán and Doña Lidia’s family for you.

4. Will the class be recorded?

Yes! The speaker view will be recorded and the link will be sent to participants after class.

If you would like to record the session in your screen view, please make sure to log in with a compatible device, and we can give you permission so you can record it directly.

5. Do you have any documents to guide us with weaving?

Yes, we do! Doña Lidia has shared with us some handouts that she has in the past used for her in-person backstrap weaving workshops around the world, and we’ve also created our own PDF guide with pictures and video links to help facilitate your weaving journey.

We also started this Facebook group for backstrap weavers to share their progress and challenges. We hope to build a community supporting and helping each other. If you have any questions, you can share them there!

6. How do you know Doña Lidia?

Actually, she’s known me (Mari) since I was a little girl. Our connection is even originally from our parents- Doña Lidia’s mother Doña Margarita was a master brocade weaver also, and my mother’s friend ( Aiko Kobayashi).

7. Where does Doña Lidia live?

She lives in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, just 15 minutes out of Antigua, Guatemala. The online classes are hosted from the open patio of her home.

8. What is that strange noise we heard in the background?

That was probably Tikal, the beloved family parrot. He gets a bit talkative sometimes — saying things like “Hola!” and “Tikalito” 😆

9. I’d like to request a special topic class with Doña Lidia, Is this possible?

Yes, this is how we first got started with the classes! Doña Lidia is a wealth of knowledge and we would be happy to facilitate either a private or a special topic group session for you. Please write to Mari at mari@kakawdesigns.com to set this up.

10. When are your next classes?

We will keep updating our Experiences section with new class offerings. Please check there.

Any other questions? Let me know!

XOXO,

Mari

Is it okay to wear the blouses? Artisan Direct profile: Cobán

As time passes with continued restrictions due to COVID-19, our rural artisan partners started to ask us if we could try to sell some of their independently-created products. With all physical stores shut and no digital means to sell on their own, it’s a really tough time in rural communities.

The Artisan Direct Pop-Up on our site was the result of these requests. This past Sunday, we started with a small listing of four blouses made by the weavers in San Juan Chamelco, Cobán. They are each handwoven, new, and so beautiful. But don’t worry, this is just the beginning – the shipment from this group included almost 50 pieces 😬

with weavers Chamelco cropped

With some of the weavers

While we will slowly be featuring other artisan groups, this Sunday’s web update will focus on handwoven blouses and dresses from this same group. (Updates are planned to go live every Sunday!)

I received a beautiful conscientious question about these pieces, which was “Is it okay to wear the blouses?” — now, if you’re not familiar with some of the tensions that exist in Guatemala related to non-Maya people wearing handwoven huipiles, this might sound like a ridiculous question. It’s a blouse. Of course it’s made to be worn.

And in this case, yes, these blouses are made and sold to be worn by anyone who would like to support the weavers. This is why:

  • The blouses made for sale by the organized group of weavers.
  • The weavers directly benefit from the sale of these items. They set their prices as a group.
  • The pieces are all new, and the cooperative keeps track of who wove which one, meaning that the original weaver is known and that the process is transparent.

With other textiles, this may not be the case because:

  • With used textiles, it can become very difficult or even impossible to pinpoint who made the piece, and how much that original weaver received for the sale of the piece.
  • Many backstrap-woven pieces, especially those with rich brocade, are made for weavers’ personal use or for a family member. They are not usually meant to become commercial items, but often weavers do decide to sell pieces for personal reasons, whether that be for wardrobe preferences or immediate need for cash. The worry is that textile middlemen may take advantage of emergency situations in rural communities, and not compensate the weavers adequately for the sale of used textiles.
  • There is a surge in products that feature Maya weaving symbols, but in print and other techniques that do not benefit weavers. These products are troublesome as there is no benefit to the weaving communities.

 

I really appreciated the question so much. I hope this clears up the complicated topic a little bit. It’s a difficult area to maneuver, and asking these questions is the first step.

 

The Weavers in Cobán

The weaving group in Cobán is comprised of 30+ weavers from a number of smaller communities around the city. They specialize in beautiful flowy cotton blouses in a variety of different weaves, with picbil being the most delicate and labor-intensive. Only a handful of master weavers from the group is able to perform this gorgeous weave.

coop group shot

picbil loom weaving 2 web

The delicate picbil weave, traditionally using white on white for an elegant blouse. One huipil of three panels takes over a month of weave from start to finish, and in colder seasons the process is elongated as los temperatures make the threads stick together, making weaving very challenging.

weaving together

Backstrap weaving

weaving herlinda back

Herlinda weaves with concentration

Picbil loom

They’re starting to work with natural dyes from local plant sources, which is really exciting! Still more testing needs to be done to make sure colors are stable and replicable within reason.

Margarita in moutains small

 

Stay tuned for this Sunday’s store update on our Artisan Direct Pop-up page for the beautiful creations from these talented weavers.

How to weave on our Practice Backstrap Loom

Looking to learn a new crafty skill while at home these days? We’ve got the thing for you, then: learn how to weave on a simple backstrap loom.

These looms have been prepped with naturally-dyed cotton warp and weft by our partner weavers at Lake Atitlán. The design is already so pretty, there’s no need for complicated weaves – the most simple weave will make a beautiful wall-hanging with all the tools still attached.

all looms kantha

<Find our Practice Backstrap Loom Kit online>

To start, these are the contents of each kit. We currently have three naturally-dyed color variants available.

What's in a kit

And these are the parts of the simple backstrap loom:

Parts of a loomYou’ll see droplets of water in the above picture because I decided to starch the warp and iron before weaving. After the starching, I spent some time to separate the threads. After that, though, it keeps the fibers more neat and avoids fuzziness and clumping. It’s up to you if you would like to starch, it is an optional step.

Here are some simple videos filmed at home, following COVID-19 restrictions so not at all professional, but I figured better to just to it. I hope they are somewhat helpful and can get you started on your first backstrap loom.

To start, this one explains the parts of the loom:

 

See how I’ve attached the loom to a pole on my terrace in the following video. It should be attached higher than where you will sit – whether that’s in a chair or on the ground directly.

 

Once you’ve got your loom in place, you’re ready to start weaving:

 

For this simple loom, there are only two steps (yay!). They are demonstrated separately in the following two videos.

Learn Step 1, which is pulling the heddle and inserting the weft from right to left:

To check from the side if you’ve lifted the heddle or rod correctly, you can take a look like in the below picture. In the first picture, you can see that it’s not “right” – there are some threads that are going from above the rod to below the sword. So it’s INCORRECT:

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But in this one below, you can see that the sword is inserted neatly without messy threads, so you know it’s been done CORRECTLY:

IMG_5495

And then Step 2, using the shed rod and inserting the weft from left to right:

The rest is just repetition. Step 1, Step 2, Step 1, Step 2… until you’ve reached the point in the loom where it becomes difficult to pull up the heddle. I would suggest stopping there, and leaving all the tools attached to the loom, and hanging the piece on your wall as home decor. You’ll be able to tell your friends and family that you wove it, and hopefully those around you will also gain appreciation for the handwoven world.

Remember that it’s ok to make mistakes! You can always retrace your steps, cut the weft (NOT THE WARP), or my personal preference: just move on. It’s all part of the process, and you should be able to see in your work how you are improving. It’s kind of fun to remember how you once made simple mistakes – and learned from them.

So I must admit, I’ve never tried to explain the steps of backstrap weaving digitally like this. I’m not an expert. You likely have some questions. Please feel free to ask questions below in the comments so others can benefit from them too, or if you’d rather ask privately, shoot me an email at mari@kakawdesigns.com.

Happy weaving at home! Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

 

XOXO,

Mari

Are you in Guatemala? Join our textile fun, even just one workshop.

We are opening our creative textile workshops during Textile Travels  to those already in Guatemala! Come learn more about the textile traditions of the beautiful Maya country, and practice some of the techniques yourself. Get creative, have fun, exchange ideas to benefit artisans and participants alike.

These workshops also include home-cooked meals and local visits to experience authentic village life. Cultural exchange through shared passions in textiles.

Interested? Let me know! Email mari@kakawdesigns.com

 

Brocade backstrap weaving workshop2

Textile discovery embroidery class1

natural dye workshops lake atitlan1.jpg

Featured on The Maker Journal!

Take a look at this beautiful website full of narratives about artisan traditions and slow fashion practices around the world.  I love this online community feel of people who believe in the value of handmade beauties.

Our upcoming Textile Travels was featured!  Take a look at the whole piece here.

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I’ve found myself in a little pickle as the founder of Kakaw Designs, a small artisanmade brand based in Guatemala, and now also a master’s student in Sustainable Development in Europe.  It seems to me that conscious consumers are more and more focused on the environmental side of fashion, pushing for locally-made products and a general reduction in consumption.  While I am a big supporter of these movements and personally believe that More is not always Better, these trends lead me to wonder about the social and economic side effects for the small-scale producers that I’ve worked with for years now in Guatemala.

We are so excited for all the possibilities to come this summer.  Time to explore new creative ideas, together with our artisan partners.  Want to know more?  As always, just email me at: mari@kakawdesigns.com.

XOXO,

Mari

NEW! Rebozo del Lago

We’re so excited to announce our most luxurious weave – by that, we mean that the widest, thickest, coziest shawl we’ve made yet.  Of course, naturally-dyed with plants and using ikat techniques to make the patterns.

I was so inspired by the beautiful colors at Lake Atitlán, where our weavers are from.  That’s why this shawl is named after the magical place – “Rebozo del Lago” 💙

 

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Huge thanks to the very talented Devon Lach for these pictures taken in the San Francisco Bay.  I’m so thrilled she was able to capture the essence of this rebozo so perfectly – the cozy wrap around your shoulders with the light breeze of the ocean, walking barefoot comfortably on the beach.  It’s serene, earthy, ethical.  I love every bit of it.

We currently only have two Rebozos del Lago stocked, and the weavers are ready to make more, waiting for your order.

<<See our video about the dyeing and weaving processes>>

<<Order now>>